Connecticut is on track for a brand makeover ahead of the upcoming tourism season, with a tagline that aims to attract visitors to the Nutmeg State.
"We'll have the branding completed for the tourism aspect by April," said Randy Fiveash, director, Connecticut Office of Tourism. "Our branding strategy to attract businesses will be launched shortly afterward."
The marketing effort is led by New York-based Chowder Inc., an agency specializing in destination marketing and advertising. Other firms involved in the project are Fleishman-Hillard, a global communications firms; South Norwalk-based Media Storm; and Waterbury-based research and marketing firm, the Harrison Group.
The initiative is part of a new two-year, $22 million marketing strategy that the state launched this year to develop Connecticut as a tourism and economic destination.
A recent study by the University of Connecticut's Center for Economic Analysis found that the state generates $11.5 billion each year in the form of tourism revenue and $1.15 billion in state and local taxes. The study found that the travel and tourism industry creates more than 110,000 jobs, which accounts for 6.5 percent of the total employment.
Fiveash said more than 150 people took part in focus group interviews conducted in Austin, New York, New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia. Additionally, his department is conducting outreach meetings across the state for representatives from cultural and tourism organizations.
"The state is moving quickly and is actively pursuing marketing strategies through social media, a vacation guide, and outreach marketing meetings," said Jeffrey L. Nichols, executive director at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, who attended a recent meeting.
"It's nice they invited us and asked for our input and also walked us through new grant possibilities for the next fiscal year" he said.
Efforts are also underway to obtain input from the general public both within and outside the state via a newly created website titled MyConnecticutStory, which will run through May of this year. Users are invited to share their Connecticut stories — visitors to the site can vote for their favorites. Prizes include theatre tickets and shopping gift cards. The stories currently on the site cover a wide range of subjects, some of which include finding love, a sense of community, heroism, and favorite destinations.
"All this research will end up being pieces to a puzzle and help us determine what the brand is for business recruitment and tourism," Fiveash said.
Meanwhile, the MetroHartfordAlliance — part of a consortium that hired the Toronto, Canada-headquartered Cundari Group to create a $200,000 branding strategy for the City of Hartford — said it has put its much-awaited tagline on hold until after the state unveils the results of its branding initiative.
"Nothing has been decided. We are deferring any decisions on the city until we see what the tagline, the brand and the themes are for the state of Connecticut," said R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, CEO of MetroHartford Alliance. "We want to see what comes out for the state and assess what impact that might have on our thinking for the city and the region."
The original goal was to launch the campaign early this year. As far back as last year, the Alliance announced that Cundari had come up with three new taglines, one of which could replace the current tagline for the city: 'Hartford: New England's Rising Star,' created over 10 years ago.
Nichols of the Mark Twain House said the Alliance, like everyone else, is waiting to see what the state does before it implements its own plan.
"The state has a multiple agenda, which is make Connecticut a vibrant place to live and visit, and also attract new businesses. So it's good to wait and see where the campaign is going," he said.
Griebel said the major objective of understanding how the market perceives the City of Hartford has been achieved.
"What we do with that in terms of changing the 'Rising Star' tagline — if we change it and what the substitute would be — depends on whether it is compatible with what the state does," he emphasized.
The initiative was funded by private sources including businesses and nonprofit organizations.
"A small amount of money came from the city," said Griebel, who added that the contract with Cundari has ended.
When asked whether Cundari and Chowder had collaborated to come up with a unified message, Griebel said both agencies worked independently.
Ira W. Yellen, CEO of First Experience Communications in Glastonbury, has been vocal about the campaign since it was launched. He said he would have preferred a coordinated approach.
"But that can come only at the direction of the clients," he pointed out.
Yellen agreed, though, that it's a good idea to wait and see what the state does.
"It certainly would be more effective if they dovetail their message. You don't want to send out confusing ideas," he said, adding that other towns and cities should be dovetailing too.
"You'd think the state might want to coordinate," he said.
Fiveash, who sits on the committee at MetroHartfordAlliance, also thinks that it's a smart approach to shadow the city's branding message with the state's overall message.
"I'm not sure about what the other communities are doing," he said.
Both Yellen and Nichols said at the end of the day, all of these initiatives are a means to an end.
"If Chowder brings results, I'm all for it. I'm looking to see more visitors come to our state," Nichols said.
Yellen said he welcomes any initiative that promotes tourism and economic development, as long as it's tied to something measurable.
Fiveash said he's working on creating quantifiable results.
"We're putting benchmarking in place. We'll have a third party agency do a study from the standpoint of tourism, tax revenue, and economic impact," he said.